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Fairy Tales Of Children And Dogs
--Written By Tiami Coleburg
--Co-Written By Ellen Andersen

There is a lot of misconception in the world about children and dogs. Movies and television have shown us wonderful images of loyal, trustworthy, kid loving canines since we were children. Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, and Benji, presented as everyday wonder dogs, are truly just stories. These images paint a picture that all dogs understand children and adore them. This fairy tale image, sadly, is far from the truth and reality. Well meaning but uninformed parents often set their child and dog up for disaster. Children are our most "beloved precious ones" and we must do everything we can to insure a safe relationship with our other beloved friend "the dog."

There are dogs that truly adore small children, but they are very much the minority and even they can have conflicts with children. Children, before they can verbally correct a dog with enough impact to make it understood, are considered a low pack member by the family dog. The canine sees a subordinate pack member that is lacking dog etiquette. They view this helpless, noisy, erratic, little invader, generally as competition for love, space, toys and food. This strange invading pack member is treating them without respect.

Small children are egocentric. They simply think, “This is fun for me,” with no capacity to understand the feelings or perceptions of another being. Children, until they have the ability to understand abstract concepts of love, trust and pain are not dog compatible.

For some dogs the noises and actions a child makes: crying, squealing, screaming, running, crawling, and rolling can stimulate prey drive. Children also unknowingly and knowingly, can inflict pain on dogs. Children do not have a sense of my space - your space, which most dogs expect and want, from a human or dog. Dogs can only say no several ways:
  • They may leave the area. Well, that sounds like a logical solution. But in fact, because the dog views the child as a subordinate, that is unlikely with a lot of dogs. Also a lot of situations do not allow the dog to the escape the advances of a child.

  • Body postures and/or growl warnings, which mean "Back Off!" A small child has no clue what these mean. Growling, snapping or biting would tell another dog "NO, you get out of my space." This normal reaction for a dog if used against a child could cost the dog it's life.

If you are thinking of getting a dog:
Think long and hard before you get a dog that will have to co-exist with a small child or baby. This is a lot of work. We see people that actually want to have a child, feel the need to adopt a puppy/dog. Pregnant women or women who want to be pregnant often have the desire to get a puppy or kitten because they have a hormone driven urged to care for something. I call this the "I need a baby syndrome." This beloved baby animal suddenly looks like a wolf to a new parent when they get the new human child home. Stressed out new parents generally have little time for a pet. Be sure your intentions are for a life time commitment and not driven by some other force. Remember this dog is going to distract and draw from your already reduced freedom and energy. How will you have time to train a dog and a child? Perhaps waiting until your child has reached a pet appropriate age would be wise. This age can vary pending your child's maturity and reasoning level.

Other myths are that getting a puppy for small children will make it a "good children’s dog" or that breeds like Labs are always great with children. There are no good children’s dogs. Some dogs are just more tolerant than others. Any dog can bite your child. Half of the "dogs versus child" calls we get, from distraught parents wishing to rid themselves of the family dog, had their dog join that family as a puppy. The time to add a dog is not when you are stretched thin and cannot devote the needed effort and time to a dog. Temperament, training, and socialization all contribute greatly to this success or disaster. Genetics and pack position have a great deal to do with the dog’s interaction with children. Any dog can be a disaster if not managed properly. Some dogs will just not be good with children no matter what is done.

So you have already have dog and now a child?
So the furry dog kids were already here. We have made a commitment for life to our canine companions, so lets make it work. Here are some guidelines that may help you keep your family unit as one. This is a hard job, but with patience, love and prevention, the combined family of dog and tiny human can succeed.

  • Never, never leave a child alone with a dog even for a minute. A minute is all it takes to do forever damage to your child and your dog. That means the phone rings, you need to use the bathroom, you forgot something in the other room, the baby goes with or the dog goes to its safe zone. I would rather miss a call than live with the results of what could happen in that moment.

  • Obedience train your dog. An out of control dog or a dog that simply has not been given human language skills combined with a toddler that will not respond to your requests is a explosive combination. Get verbal command and control of the situation by training your dog. This can only be done with obedience training.

  • Give your dog a safe zone. This should be an area with a good, easy to use baby gate. Don't skimp here, a difficult gate can lead to not using it or accidentally leaving it open. Gates allow your dog to be in the house and be a part of the everyday activities, but safely separated from your baby or small child. This is a must. You cannot supervise a dog and child constantly.

  • Do not let your guard down, this is a juggling act that takes years not months. Each advancement by your child will affect your "child and dog" relationship. Some dogs are fine with the baby in a bassinet, but when the baby becomes mobile watch out. Every new day and advancement by your child should be accessed for possible "dog versus child" conflicts.

  • A child that can talk and that is mature enough to grasp the concept, should be given instructions on major commands like NO, SIT, AWAY, LEAVE IT. Children should practice in a firm loud voice away from the dog. Then together with a trainer and/or parents try using the commands correctly.

  • Never allow your child to sit, lie down, or crawl on the ground alone, while dogs are around. To a dog it is an act of subordinate submission. Some dogs will take it as a signal to play with the child like another dog. Never allow your dog to play with your child in this manner. In other dogs, these actions can stimulate prey drive.

  • Children should not run from or around dogs. This can stimulate play or prey drive.

  • Never allow your child to lie on, sit on, kiss, hug or harass a dog. Good Dog Carl is fictional.

  • Never allow your child to play tug a war with a dog. This game promotes human versus dog activity. Dog gets the toy and the dog wins alpha positioning. Many breeds should never be allowed to play this game even with adults. It mentally puts the dog in competition with the human at the other end of the toy.

  • Toys and tasty food covered children's clothing are a huge source of interest to dogs, irritation for parents and sadness for children. Dogs eat and destroy these items in a flash. They are also a huge hazard for your dog’s intestinal system. Keep things picked up and realize this is just going to be part of the journey if they do get ruined. Somewhere in Barbie Heaven there are a lot of legless, armless, headless Barbies. These items draw dogs for several reasons: They often have food residue on them, they look like a fun toy, dogs have a desire to take things from each other (this will include your child) because it is a natural pack instinct.

  • Dog toys and chew toys should only be allowed in the dog’s safe zone and should be removed when not in use. Dogs should only be fed in their safe zone. Put the food down and remove it promptly. Do not allow food to sit around. This is just asking for trouble.

  • Do not allow your child to be a snack machine. Dogs like the food, not necessarily the child holding the food. Food should only be given, not stolen, from a child. Allow your child to give dogs correct treats under supervision. The dog should work for the child by sitting and then receive a treat. Children with supervision can also help feed the dogs, again the dog should work by sitting and waiting for their dinner. This puts the child in control and will begin the child's rise in pack positioning.

  • Do not allow your children to be outside in a yard without strict supervision with a dog. If the dogs are out, the kids are in. If the kids are out, the dogs should be in. Children should ask to go outside if the yard is a shared area. If yard space allows a safe zone area for the dog, this is helpful. This area should be fenced and securely gated, separating child and dog. Make sure the child cannot open this gate and that the dog will not jump over.

  • Do not allow other people's children to play with your dog. It is not worth the risk. If a child wants to pet your dog, and you think it is safe, have control over your dog’s head and allow the child to pet the dog with one hand. The one hand rule is helpful. It keeps the child in control and the dog does not feel crowded. Never allow a child to hug your dog!

If we let go of the fairy tales of dogs and children and accept the reality and responsibility that comes with parenthood and canine companionship, we can have something better; safe, happy children and dogs. It is worth the effort.
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